Emergent Balanced Literacy for Students with Significant Disabilities

Last week, I was able to attend a wonderful workshop presented by Dr. Caroline Musselwhite called, "Emergent Balanced Literacy for Students with Significant Disabilities."

When we talk about balanced literacy we are talking about students' oral and written language development; they are all interrelated. This includes: receptive communication/listening, writing, reading, and expressive communication/AAC.

Slide taken from Dr. Musselwhite's handout

Emergent literacy includes the teaching and learning of oral language (AAC), the alphabetic code/phonological awareness, and print knowledge/concepts. Our students need to have effective literacy instruction that includes the 3 skills listed above when they are at the emergent level. Instruction isn't different from regular education peers but it may require those students with significant disabilities be given more time, the materials may need to be adapted, such as students with an AAC device or those who need an alternative to a pencil, and the presentation may need to be different; but the fundamentals of effective teaching does not change! "Good literacy instruction is good for all children. No evidence demonstrate that children who are struggling to read require radically different teaching approaches from their peers." -Martine Smith. What we might need to change is the amount of time, the teaching approach and the use of technology to let all learners learn.

Once students achieve the emergent literacy skills, one can move onto teaching the conventional literacy skills that include: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

When we work with students at a very beginning reading level, we need to include shared reading (teacher reading and demonstrating, lots of self talk), self-selected listening (students listening to reading), phonemic awareness (letters/sounds, vowels, syllables ect.), and emergent writing skills.

If you are looking for models, please chek out the DLM website:
You can watch interactive modules about shared reading, speaking and listening, writing and more.

I love this excerpt from Mary-Louise Bertram on her blog at: http://teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com/2014/11/low-functioning-high-functioning-what.html
She says, "Children who are labeled "low functioning" are the kids who are the tricky ones to problem solve. They don't, "throw you any bones". They are often consistently inconsistent and the supports that work one day just don't work the next. These are the kids that need the strongest supports from aided language stimulation, a robust full language AAC systems, alternative pencils, visual supports, sensory strategies and an engaging curriculum."

Websites to check from Dr. Musselwhite"

I will continue to share more about Assessment and Feedback, Developmental Spelling, Shared Reading, and Writing that I learned from this amazing workshop! Until next time,


  1. Great efforts put to find the list of articles that are very useful to know. I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. And Good comments create relations. You’re doing great work. Keep it up.

    Magento Development Training Course in Chennai Zuan Education

    Selenium Training Course in Chennai Zuan Education

  2. Nice post. Thanks for sharing! I want people to know just how good this information is in your article. It’s interesting content and Great work.
    Digital Marketing Course In Kolkata


Back to Top